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The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 7 Media Center

If you’ve moved from XP to Windows 7, this might be the first time you’ve had access to Media Center. Here we’ve created a guide for our best tips, tricks, and tutorials for using Windows 7 Media Center.

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Note: Windows 7 Media Center is only available in Windows Home Premium and above.

Getting Started & Watching TV

If you are new to Windows 7 Media Center, you’ll want to take a look at our beginner’s guide which shows you how to set up WMC for viewing Live TV, Recording, Streaming Video, Netflix, and more.

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If your PC has a tuner card it may seem like a daunting task to set up to watch live TV. But in fact Windows makes it easy with a simple to use wizard driven interface that walks you through the process, and finds all your channels for you. For more check out our article on how to setup live TV in WMC.

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Now that you have your Live TV setup, you can start tweaking the experience. If you are a fan of being able to control TV like a DVR you might want to increase the live TV pause buffer with a registry tweak. This will prevent the annoyance of pausing live TV while you go do something…then come back and the program is playing again.

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Then you might want to customize the Channel Guide. You can start by adding TV channel Logos, then add color coding to the Program Guide.

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Finally, if you like to watch a lot of live TV in WMC, you might want it to always start in live TV Mode. This will allow you to avoid a few menu navigation steps and bring you right to where you want to be automatically. There are also other startup customizations you can use that will kick it off in other areas like the Movies or Music Library.

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Watch Streaming Video

If you don’t have a TV Tuner Card installed on your computer, you can still freely watch online content from major networks like ShowTime, CBS, and others (with limited commercials). When the Internet TV feature was first launched, the selection wasn’t that great, but at the time of this writing, a lot more content has been added.

Not only can you watch current streaming content, but it also provides cool classic shows like Star Trek, Hawaii 5.0, Twilight Zone, and more. For more check out our article on How to Watch TV without a Tuner Card in Windows 7 Media Center.

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Since WMC is meant to be your central hub for all things media, you can add the ability to watch YouTube videos. This way you can watch YouTube from the comfort of your couch or from your PC without having to open a browser session.

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If that isn’t enough programming for you, check out our articles on adding even more streaming channels with TunerFree MCE or SecondRunTV.

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Use Other Video Streaming Services with WMC

If you’re using Windows 7 Media Center as your HTPC then you’ll definitely want to integrate it with other streaming services like Hulu or Boxee.

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Integrate Boxee with Windows 7 Media Center

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Integrate Hulu Desktop with Windows 7 Media Center

Record & Edit TV

One of the cooler things that Media Center allows is the ability to use your PC like a DVR and record live TV. While it’s really just a simple process of hitting a record button, you can also setup a schedule to record live broadcasts and use Windows Live Movie Maker to edit your TV recordings.

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There are also advanced tools like Remote Potato that will allow you to remotely schedule and stream recorded TV.

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Remove Commercials

While the native controls work fairly well for watching Live TV you’ll probably want the ability to Skip Commercials. You can also try out some other plugins that give you more control like converting video and removing commercials with MCEBuddy.

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Another way to help deal with commercials is using a simple registry hack to increase the skip and replay intervals of live and recorded TV.

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Watching Movies in WMC

Since Media Center can be your central hub for entertainment, you might want to manage your movies through it. If you have a collection of movies ripped to AVI, MPEG, or other compatible formats you can easily add the folders to the Movie Library.

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Here is a list of the file formats Windows 7 Media Center supports by default.

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If you already have DVDs ripped to your hard drive to ISO format, you can automatically mount and view ISO files in WMC.

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While the above solutions will allow you to easily watch your movie collection in WMC, you’ll probably want to add images and metadata to the movies in your library.

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If you want a more in depth approach for getting cover art and detailed metadata to your movie collection you can use the Media Center Master app. This will give you more detailed information on your movies from IMDB (Internet Movie Database) which is always a cool thing.

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Listening to Music

They call it Media Center for a reason – it’s not just limited to movies and TV. Most people don’t think of using WMC for managing their music collection, but if you want to keep your multimedia in a central location, you can start by ripping your CD collection.

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Then you can organize the Music Library by creating Playlists.

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Listen to Local an Online Radio Broadcasts

If you’re a person who still loves their radio, you can use WMC to listen to both local and online streaming broadcasts. If you have a supported tuner card and a connected FM antenna, you can listen to local FM radio…even create station presets.

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Or if you want to listen to streaming radio check out how to add an XM Radio account, or you can listen to over 100,000 radio stations from around the world for free with the RadioTime plugin.

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Manage Pictures

If you have a lot of pictures in your collection, you can use the WMC Picture Library to help manage and display them. It provides the ability to create a slideshow of you pictures so you can easily share them with friends and family.

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For even more control of your pictures you can use WMC to crop, edit, and print photos.

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Customizing Windows 7 Media Center

Now that you know how to use WMC for music, movies, pictures, and TV…you might want to take a look at customizing it. One thing you can do is add background images and themes for a more pleasant UI.

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After adding backgrounds and themes to the user interface of WMC, you can customize the start menu using Media Center Studio.

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To further customize the Start Menu, you can get rid of clutter by hiding menu strips that you don’t ever use.

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Use Your Phone as a Remote for Windows 7 Media Center

If you don’t have a remote for your tuner card, a cool thing you can do is use your Android phone as a remote for it with GMote.

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If you don’t have an Android phone, you can also use your iPhone or iPod Touch as a remote too. Not only can you control WMC with these phone apps, but also your entire PC.

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Enhance WMC with Addins

There are a lot of addins that are available for Windows 7 Media Center that you can use to enhance its functionality. Here’s a look at some of the ones we’ve covered.

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Other Windows 7 Media Center Tips & Tricks

If you have kids who have access to Media Center you might want to set up the Parental Controls feature. This allows you to block content you don’t want your young ones to see. You choose the content they can or can’t watch or listen to. If they try to access inappropriate media, they will have to enter in a code that only you know.

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If you spend too much time watching TV and Movies, you might forget to do important tasks. If you tend to get caught up in a movie and forget things you need to get done, you can setup event reminders that will pop up while watching shows.

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If you’re annoyed when Media Center decides to grab updates for program listings while you’re trying to get things done, you can schedule the updates to take place at specific times.

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If you’re a Windows Home Server user, there is a cool ability to setup the Windows Media Center Connector with it. This will allow you to access media content from the server and keep tabs on it’s storage, health, backups, and more.

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Media Center in Windows 7 has received several enhancements since the days of XP Media Center Edition. There are a lot of ways to use it including installing other addins and using it with your Xbox which we didn’t cover here. If you’re just starting out with WMC or are an experienced user, this guide should definitely help you out.

What about you? Do you use Windows 7 Media Center? Leave us a comment and tell us your favorite ways to use it.

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 08/31/10

Comments (11)

  1. LV

    These tips are absolutely awesome. Thanks millions for that.

  2. Hector

    I built my own HTPC and use it with Windows 7 Media Center and here are a few tips that havent mention

    1) Remote if you bought one its awesome but if you havent the best iphone/itouch remote is Hippo remote
    2) Codecs for some systems like playing MKVs this is one of the easiest installations it comes in 32 bit and 64 bit
    (Google shark 007)
    3) Media Center Master is one of the best metadata tools that get you awesome backdrops and thumbnails
    (Google media center master)
    4)Media Browser is the best aggregator plugin for Media Center
    http://www.mediabrowser.tv/
    5) Now if you want to do more on you Media Center check out
    http://www.hack7mc.com/
    on a side note
    the boxee plugin was my inspiration

  3. Gene

    thank you…………..thank you……………….thank you………………..merci!

  4. Transviloquist

    By far the greatest POS ever invented by M$, did not work in XP and does not work in Win 7.

  5. Matt

    I’d like to know how to go back and record from the start of a TV show that I have been watching. I know I can go back but it doesn’t allow recording from a previous point. That’s a pretty basic function that should be included

  6. Danny

    I discovered my PC was turning itself on at 4am every morning to download Media Center updates. I really don’t like it when my machine does things without me knowing about it. And the TV guide listings aren’t available in my area, so it’s pointless downloading updates anyway.

    Did you know that if you go into the Media Center settings and disable updates, it will still wake up in the middle of the night for media center updates anyway!! The only way to stop it is to go into the Task Scheduler and disable the mcupdate_scheduled task.

  7. Kim

    Another great guide from you guys. Unfortunately Microsoft has completely abandoned European users. WMC does not support DVB-C in Europe so that brilliant program doesn’t work. Not only do we have to pay more to get the program we also get a crippled edition :(

  8. Tim

    Great article. I really like the registry changes you mention. Thank you!

  9. Chris

    Great tips on how to use WMC. If I build a WMC HTPC, what options do I have to stream the content to TV’s around the house that will allow me to use the WMC gui? Is Xbox my only option? I really don’t want/need an Xbox at every TV but I like the idea of using the WMC gui at each TV.

  10. mp3c

    Grab a Wiimote, Bluetooth adapter, GlovePIE, a PIE media script, you get a functional WMC remote…

  11. Anjii

    Never would have thunk I would find this so insidpenasble.

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